30 January 2008

Mail Day in Prison

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We all need letters - love, acceptance, congratulatory, surprise, confirmation, invitation - to affirm we are a member of the human race and that good feelings and hope are still in reserve for us. We also use letters to document spiritual progress.

The Prison Dharma Network (PDN) and their 'penpal' program links people on the 'outside' who meditate, with people on the 'inside' who meditate too, or who just want to learn about becoming more peaceful in general. PDN has created a network of various Buddhists around the world who offer meditation groups and infrastructure to prisoners, their friends and family, and anyone who wants to help those incarcerated in the United States.

They also want letters. They need letters.

Mail day in prison is the most important day of week.

A spiritual master I know (depicted above) recounted how, with each teaching he received as a child from his master, he would be given a handwritten letter and informal stamp. He was very poor, as was his master, and so his letters of accomplishment were documented on a torn section of a Chinese shopkeepers ledger. A worthless article rendered priceless.

I also think of Rilke's Letters To A Young Poet and how essential this form of generous, thoughtful communication is to the development of the soul - both the writer and the recipient. Henry Miller and Anais Nin wrenched their hearts and guts with pen and paper, and Gibran and his beloved Mary began, lived and ended their relationship this way.

I have always believed in the power of the handwritten scrawl, and the energy contained on a sheet of paper once white and now transformed. The words themselves may be simple and contained, but the loop of a letter 'a' or the dip of an 'f' is most intimate and human.

I imagine the glimmers of hope glowing in even the most jaded and cynical of eyes. It's the same bit of hope that exists in all of us. An ember that wants a wind.


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